A Story of Blessings, a Baby, and Breasts.
*EDIT: I forgot to add this within the story, and I just want to make a note that I did have blood work done in November when I was first struggling with low supply. Nothing of concern was noted. I also had more blood work (hormonal levels and thyroid) checked in March at my annual physical, and again, no concern. I do realize this does not MEAN there are no physiological reasons, but these were explored and so that is why I am at such a loss! Thank you for reading – I am overwhelmed with the response to this post, and I feel SO honoured to hear so many stories from amazing mamas. <3
When I was pregnant, one of the biggest themes present in my crazy, extremely vivid pregnancy-style dreams was that of breastfeeding. My baby, in my dreams, was faceless, but beautiful. I didn’t know if my baby was a boy or girl, because we had decided not to find out, let nature run it’s course, and find out when I gave birth to our child. In my dreams, it was the same, I didn’t know if it was a boy or if it was a girl, and sometimes, it was a boy, and sometimes, it was a girl. But for the most part, when I would dream about my baby, my baby was simply that – a baby. But MY baby, a beautiful tiny little being, full of life, love, and full of dreams.
Just like I was. I frequently had dreams about my unborn baby, and I would always wake up and tell Kyle what happened that previous night in dreamland. Most of the time, it was nothing new. Most of the time, it was simply that I was holding my baby, rocking my baby to sleep, and breastfeeding my baby in my arms. Simple, right?
Throughout my pregnancy, and for any of you that have been pregnant I’m sure you can relate, one of the hot topics is how you are going to feed your baby, except it is not asked in such a way, it is asked of you if you are going to breastfeed. It’s just one of those natural things, right? Right. I had done a lot of reading about pregnancy, birthing, and breastfeeding (however, not NEAR as much as I do now, the birth junkie that I am) and so I felt like I had a good handle on it. I was not fearful of the labour or birthing process, in fact, I was looking forward to it. I was amazed that my body was going to take over, with the aid of my brain and my baby, and we were going to do something miraculous, yet totally normal and happens all the time.
For the 9ish months that I was pregnant, I was waiting for my breasts to change. I was waiting for them to get ginormous, to say the least, and it never happened. I knew that this didn’t always happen, but I never really experienced much in the way of breast changes. The only time I remember any pregnancy symptom that was breast-related, was in the summertime, being in the hot sun and going for dunks in the lake, and having the sorest most tender nipples EVER. It was uncomfortable but secretly I was cheering inside because I had always wondered up to that point what was up with the lack of boobie changes? On more than one occasion, did I wonder out loud if I would have issues with not being able to produce milk for my child because my breasts were not showing any evidence of this whole pregnant deal.
Cade was born on November 3 at 8:08pm and as most of you know, it was the most beautiful and transformative experience of my life. Cade was born and I was born as a mother. Just like that. It still blows my mind, really. He was immediately placed on my chest for me to introduce myself (though he had known me all along) and love all up. I was in a state of complete bliss, and perhaps a slight amount of shock, but most of all, I was ecstatic and beside myself. I couldn’t believe it. “Oh my god, Oh my god! I can’t believe this! I can’t believe you are mine! You are so cute! Oh my god! You are so beautiful! I love you so much!” I wish, to this day, that the moment that Cade was born was video’d, because it was incredible. And not only that, but my declaration of love was, am I allowed to do this, flippin’ AWESOME. I was over the moon for this little being!
And while I was beside myself, blissed right out, it did not cross my mind at that moment to breastfeed my son. I don’t know if it crossed anyone’s mind, because it didn’t happen right then and there. I wonder to this day if it would have made a difference, and I don’t THINK it would have, but I’m a sucker for not knowing. I held my son for quite awhile, and Kyle and I gushed over him like mad. I don’t remember timelines exactly, I don’t remember when he was taken to the warmer, Kyle right beside him for the whole time, and I don’t remember when they wrapped him all up, but I know that we had skin-to-skin for awhile. I have tried not to have any regrets about this moment, because I know in my right, rational mind, there is nothing I can do differently about it, and having regrets is unhealthy. So I don’t regret it, but I use it as a learning tool. I would loved to have delayed everything, the “cleaning” of my son (rub that goodness right in!), the weighing, you name it, and I would’ve wanted us to attempt the breast crawl right off the bat, to initiate eye contact and bonding in such a way.
It wasn’t until we were up on post-partum, after I had showered and cleaned up, and after Cade had been wrapped in blankets, warmed right up, and had a bath, did we attempt breastfeeding. He knew exactly what to do. I remember the nurse that was helping me, bless her heart, said “look, wow, he knows exactly how to do this, he is a pro.” I believed her and we went on with our night, as rough as it was. Cade cried most of the night, despite frequent attempted feedings, cuddles, and skin-to-skin. Kyle and I were both exhausted, and I broke down at one point because I “didn’t know what to do and I was so tired” and the nurse swaddled Cade up tightly, rocked him a bit, and handed him back to me. It was not until 6am that he finally got some sleep, and so did I.
I always say that the beginning of motherhood is so insane. You start off after going hours, days without sleep, and then you are thrown into a whole new wild world of breastfeeding, caring for a baby, and trying to heal, physically and emotionally from everything that just took place. That’s exactly where I was at. I could barely lie in bed without my perineum aching, and not only that, but I couldn’t pee due to the epidural/IV combo I had been infused with. Toss in sore and cracked nipples into the mix and I’m spent.
The next day I remember being a bit calmer. I would frequently breastfeed Cade, and I felt that things were going well. I was in a sleep-deprivation induced haze, but was over the moon and in love with everything. The tears poured out of my eyes over any and everything. I was tired, so I cried. I was in love with Kyle as a father, and so I cried again. I remember the nurses in the hospital telling me to rest up that day, as baby’s second night of life was usually chaotic and they wanted to be up eating all the time. I felt somewhat prepared, but that didn’t really happen. That night, actually went off without much of a hitch. Cade would wake up every 1.5-2 hours to feed, and would then go back to sleep. Kyle and I woke up feeling somewhat refreshed, but still extremely exhausted. Mostly, we were excited to be taking our little boy home, as that was the plan. They tested his bili levels and they were fine, he was not jaundiced, and so we were able to go home. That morning, I remember asking a nurse for the help of a lactation consultant, to ensure that everything really WAS going well and that we were latching. The nurse basically denied me this request, saying that the LC’s were usually reserved for individuals who were struggling and having breastfeeding issues. At the time, I accepted this, especially because she told me she had a passion for breastfeeding and offered to help me out. I thought this was fine and dandy, and she really WAS of great assistance and showed me different positions to ease my achy nipples, however, looking back, I do think this was wrong. I should have not have been denied the support of a LC by any means, and while I don’t think this affected our journey at all, I just think it’s unfortunate.
So homeward bound we were, and we couldn’t be happier. I was on a strict regiment of having 2 baths a day, and to feed my son on demand, which I would do anyway. The thought of using formula never crossed my mind. I thought things were going quite delightful actually, until that night. The sun went down and the evening reared its ugly head. Cade turned into a nightmare, and in turn, so did his mama. I must say, thank goodness for the best father ever, because he really was our rock at this time. I’m sure there were times where he wondered who he should comfort first, though obviously that answer is pretty clear-cut. Cade screamed. All. Bloody. Night. Despite constantly nursing him. Despite endless cuddles and swaddling. We swaddled him with an additional blanket. It was shortly after that that he stopped crying and slept. That was around 7am. And I must say, we were pretty proud of ourselves. Oh, so THAT was it. He was just cold, well DUH!
But it wasn’t just temperature regulation that was the issue, oh no, because he lost his mind the next night too. And I felt oh so bad for this poor little boy. What an entrance to this thing called life. He screamed. He screamed some more. He cried. He yelled. He wailed. I cried. Kyle rocked and swaddled and patted and rocked and cuddled. I think it was about 8am that Cade finally crashed for a couple hours. Kyle and I were absolutely zonked. I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right, and Cade looked a little on the yellow jaundicey side of things, and so I called the Healthy & Home nurses and demanded that they come for a home visit that day.
It pains me so hard, it breaks me into pieces, and it hurts my heart to think what COULD have happened if the nurses didn’t come that day, if something wouldn’t have told Kyle and I that we NEEDED to seek out support immediately. I was starving my boy and I didn’t even know it. Except, I did. I knew something was wrong, and it was only after 2 nights of solid screaming did I wonder if perhaps he wasn’t getting enough to eat?
I was in tears on the phone with the nurse. They sensed my urgency and they came over within an hour and a half. They weighed my poor, sad, hungry little boy, and he had lost a pound of his body weight, which totalled 13 % which is a major red flag. He hadn’t pooped in a couple days, and I really don’t remember his wet diaper count, but it wasn’t good. I know that some major lactivists might say I was booby trapped after I say this next point – and maybe I was and maybe I wasn’t – what I DO know is my boy HAD to eat and he was a completely different baby after we fed him formula. The nurses with Healthy & Home are lactation consultants as well, and Cindy, oh dear Cindy, was a kind, compassionate soul. She understood my deep desire, my need, to breastfeed my son, and she understood my need to nurture him, with love and with nutrition, and she understood that he HAD TO EAT. This was not an option, and I was not producing enough for my poor, sweet boy. When we came to this conclusion, I was heartbroken. I burst into tears, I had a million questions, and Cindy was amazing. I swear, I should’ve sent her flowers. I don’t know if it’s because she was the first nurse we encountered after going home or what, but she is the only LC’s name that I remember, and there were I think 5 different LC’s that visited us at home within a few days, to check on Cade’s bili levels and to provide breastfeeding support. (Actually, this is an aside, but I think I am going to contact Cindy and let her know how much I appreciated her. )
Cindy basically demanded that we had to get some calories into this boy asap. She asked if we had some on hand, and sure enough, WE DID (go on lactivists, attack me for not tossing out the free formula samples). I saved everything we got in the mail, why? I don’t know. I remember thinking when I got the formula samples “oh, well, I’ll never need these, in the closet they go.” I showed her the only bottle we had on hand (also a free sample), and she encouraged us to try the Supplemental Nursing System if we wanted to continue breastfeeding as well as getting formulas into our boy at the same time. I remember the method seeming petty and confusing, and WORK. But we agreed to try it out, and she showed Kyle and I how to team up and make it work. It was complicating and stressful and just thinking about it gives me a lump in my throat. Basically, we would fill a syringe with formula, attach a tiny sterile tube to the syringe, and then place the tube alongside my nipple as Cade latched on. We were still trying to perfect the latch, so adding an extra step in caused much grief, but we did it. For nearly 4 weeks, every feed, we would use this tiny little tube and place it as Cade latched, so that he would still nurse and hopefully stimulate my breasts to provide milk and increase my supply, but that he would still get substantial calories as well. I remember feeling increasing anxiety as it came time for Kyle to go back to work, because how the hell was I supposed to do this on my own? It took my tears, many tries, until we figured out a system that (sort of) worked. When the tears got to be too much, I would just use my finger and feed the tube along my finger to feed Cade, after breastfeeding him. I was scared of the bottle and we avoided it for as long as I could stand to.
After going in to the Breastfeeding clinic to meet with an LC there, Cade’s suck was evaluated and determined to be great. The LC checked out his slight tongue tie, and also determined it to be very slight. Our doctor has said the same. This is still something to this day I wonder about. Everyone has said it would not affect breastfeeding because it’s so slight and far back, but I am skeptical, if only because I am searching desperately for answers. At one point when we met with the LC, I was breastfeeding Cade, and the LC was doing hardcore breast compressions to attempt to get the milk flowing. And it still didn’t flow. It just would NOT flow, stubborn supply. The plan was to rent an electric hospital grade pump and attempt to pump after every feed for approximately 10 minutes per side (or all at once if using a double pump). Needless to say, this was exhausting, but we did it. The pump became my worst enemy. I felt overwhelmed and intimidated by the pump. We were not friends and I don’t believe this helped to increase my milk supply either. I began to despise the pump, everything about it. I hated washing out the pump parts a million times a day, I hated sitting there with the flanges on my breasts, making the “werr, werrrrrr” noise with every suction. I hated anxiously watching the bottles that would catch the pumped milk, waiting to see a bottle at least half full. I hated seeing next to no milk come out of my pumped breasts, my breasts that were so desperate to be full. I’m sure one day I will regret it, but I wanted to experience hard, aching, full of milk boobies. I felt envy and jealousy when my friends would have to slip in a breast pad because they were leaking. I wanted to leak. Shit, let me leak all over my shirt, let’s soak it up. It never happened.
I attempted to take Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle, two supposed galactagogues, but the only thing they did was give my body a sweet and spicy odour. I took these in combination with Domperidone, a prescribed medication used to treat stomach issues with the sometimes fortunate side effect of inducing lactation. Again, I’m not sure it did much, though I did take it for about 6 months. After 4 weeks of feeling in my heart that I tried everything I could to increase my supply, but to see really no improvements, I retired the SNS and revamped our routine to 1) Breastfeed Cade for as long as he would latch and suckle 2) Give him a bottle with formula to top him off. This worked and I felt like a huge amount of pressure was eased off of me. The SNS created stress and I began to cry at almost every feed. Was it worth it? Was Cade benefiting from a depressed and completely worn-down mother? Eventually, I returned the pump. I held onto it for a very long time, because I couldn’t bring myself to take it back for fear that it was signalling I had given up. I hadn’t used it in days, and it was sitting there, taking up space, it was almost daunting in a way. I returned it, and I felt a twinge of sadness, until I realized why I was returning it.
It took me a long time to realize what our feeding routine was doing to my son, and to myself. I was completely worn out, I was stressed, and I was depressed. I had begun to question if I really did everything I could, surely I missed something, right? But when I realized that I did everything I could, and when I realized that it was worth it for our feeding routine to change, was when I felt a complete let-go of the stress that had been bogging me down. I felt this within myself, and I noticed a change in my son at feeding. He took to the bottle like a champ, and he took to the breast like a champ. There were no issues with him going from breast to bottle and back. Was it so important to me to not use a bottle because it might mean failure, even when it might have meant not so pleasant things for my son? He truly thrived when I was happy, and I didn’t realize that in the moment until we had decided to change our routine, for everyone’s sake, but mostly Cade’s and my own. Cade needed me, he needed his mother, to be happy, and to be content, and to feel GOOD about the time spent feeding him. I was not feeling good about this, and what was this doing to him? Did I want to transfer so much negative energy to a sweet little baby? Of course I didn’t, so why I was doing that for so long, I don’t know. I have determination and I have perseverance, and because I knew in my heart that that was one of the best things I could do for my son, was breastfeed him.
This was what factored into my decision to keep at it for so long. I understand that everyone has a choice to make, and that choice is truly their own. I respect each woman’s choice, and I do believe that decisions are made for a reason, based on past experiences, life issues, and the like. The choice that I made, that we made, as a family, was for me to continue to breastfeed Cade for as long as we could sustain it. Even if it was a teaspoon of milk he was getting from me. Even if it was a drop. We had become pros at breastfeeding, and it was part of our routine, so we kept on keeping on. Gradually, he started to get more formula and less breastmilk, though there were times where he would breastfeed and did not want to take a bottle after that. Those times? I felt happy. I felt good. I felt like that was a huge success for us, and it was sort of a gift, a karmic gift, after the breastfeeding struggles we had endured.
We kept on with this routine until Cade was about 8 months old. Eventually, it had turned to where he would only breastfeed in the morning when he first woke up, before having a bottle, or in the middle of the night when he would wake up to eat, while waiting for the bottle to warm up. He got to an age where he got so distracted, and nursing was not on the top of his priority list, and so we went with it, and we excelled at that for awhile too. Around 8 months old, he lost his interest in nursing, and it sort of happened gradually, which I am thankful for. I remember thinking that I had to prepare myself for the end of this rocky journey that we had had, but because it just dwindled off, I am just now mourning the conclusion of it, pouring it all out there.
Truthfully? I feel okay with how things went. I had to come to terms with it, and I still have many what if’s that cross my mind, sometimes on a daily basis, but not as much anymore. Do I wish that things would have went differently? I do. But I have learned so much based how things did go, and they went according to the agenda in which they needed to go. Not only have I learned an insane amount about breastfeeding, pregnancy, birthing, and how the birthing process can affect breastfeeding, I have learned even more about my son and myself. My son is patient and determined. He possesses these traits like no other, and while some might argue that I can’t determine that since he’s so young, I CAN and I know that he will fight for what he wants, and if he wants it, he will get it. I feel like at such a young age, only 8 months, he already knows exactly what he wants and how to go for it. When my son is old enough to understand, I want to talk to him about our journey, and I want to thank him for being patient with me as I learned, and for helping me to learn. He taught me the gift of patience and perseverance. He taught me to believe in myself, and to be strong when times were tough. And really, by simply being born, he has encouraged me to conquer my fears, to take on anything.
Still to this day, I don’t know why we were not able to exclusively breastfeed. I don’t want to say that we weren’t successful at breastfeeding, because the way success is measured can be so trivial. We were successful in ways that we had to be. Was it the tongue tie? Is it because I was induced and my body just wasn’t ready? Was it the epidural and intense infusion of IV fluids? Did the pitocin have something to do with it? Should we have done skin-to-skin sooner and commenced the breastfeeding journey right then and there? Do I have insufficient glandular tissue, a physiological condition that can prevent a sufficient supply of milk? There were times where I wanted to be more successful, and around 6 months old I seriously considered attempting the process of ‘relactating’, but aptly decided that I would be doing more damage than good by taking on that. That’s just a whole other ball game.
Just like any other mama who breastfed once but is no longer, I miss the feeling of my beautiful little angel’s tiny hands on my chest, resting on my breast, as he nursed and looked at me, or nursed and got so comfy he dozed off. I miss being skin-to-skin and having his warm and so very soft tummy pressing against my own. I miss his little “hmm” noises he would make when he was latched on. I miss the feeling of nutritionally nurturing him, knowing I am providing him with the antibodies that he needs and his body desires.
I had many moments where I felt extreme amounts of guilt. I didn’t want to feed him in public, because pulling out that bottle meant that I had failed breastfeeding, and so obviously I had failed as a mother, right? WRONG. I learned that breastfeeding did not equal perfection, nor did it equal motherhood. Was it a huge component of motherhood? Yes it was, but it was not the be all and it was not the end all. In the end, I was doing for my son what I needed to do for him. We learned along the way. I’m hoping with future babies (probably only just 1 ;) that breastfeeding will work out, and that I will be able to use the tools that Cade taught me, in order to be “successful.” But that’s for another time, and for now, this is where we’re at.
But most importantly, I am proud of where we were and where we have come. I feel blessed that we were given an obstacle, a hurdle, and we flew right over it, with a little bit of turbulence along the way. I know that my experiences might seem trivial compared to other’s, but the fact is, this is our story, and it does matter. Our story might help others, but most of all, it has helped us. It will make us better people, more empathetic, stronger individuals. I feel like I have a surge of compassion that has been injected in me because of it. I feel better able to understand other’s experiences with breastfeeding. I never realized the emotional intensity of a breastfeeding journey and all that goes along with it. I now do, and I think that that is beautiful and such an important part of the life that I want to lead. My boy is thriving and I am happy and as healthy as I’ve ever been. We work as a team, and this was only the very start of it. We are in for a very wonderful, a very fulfilling, and a very triumphant ride.
Entry filed under: Cade, Love, Mamabear. Tags: baby, birth experience, blessed thistle, breast feeding, breastfeeding, cade, domperidone, fenugreek, healthy and home, lactation consultants, life, love, low milk supply, mental health, motherhood, nursing, parenthood, post-partum, pregnancy, reflecting, relationships, royal university hospital, saskatoon, self, self-reflections, writing.